By Dushyant Shekhawat Mar. 19, 2018
I have become reluctant to forge new friendships. Like everything else in this age, my emotions can be summed up in one catchy hashtag: #NoNewFriends. Is this all part of growing up, being on the other side of 25?
Recently, a neighbour who I know since I was five put in me in a pickle by asking me to give her a lift on the way to work. I’m not averse to doing the odd favour, but she decided to season my inconvenience with outright annoyance by proceeding to make small talk along the way. That long, long ride ended with her asking for my mobile number, and my brain desperately tried to randomise a ten-digit sequence. I failed to come up with a fake number on the spot, so I ended up surrendering my actual contact details with a heavy heart.
I struggled to understand why I felt so reluctant toward becoming close to a neighbour who I have known since we were both children. And then I realised, like everything else in this age, my emotions could be summed up in a catchy hashtag: #NoNewFriends
You don’t need to be an Instagram addict to be familiar with the hashtag and the sentiment it espouses. #NoNewFriends has become an evergreen caption, a hashtag you can team with everything from your Sunday brunch to your childhood throwback. IRL, you’ll see this at any large gathering – a wedding reception or a house party. Rather than mingling with strangers, most people are comfortable forming small groups that are so rigidly segregated that Nelson Mandela would roll over in his grave anytime more than five people get together. At a certain point in your social life, strangers become persona non grata, to be treated the way Bollywood treats Kamaal R Khan.
It wasn’t always this way. School was like a big, happy circle of friends. Unless you were that annoying teacher’s pet who’d leak out all the class secrets or suffered from bad BO. The backslapping lasts into college, where you acquire more friends for reasons as inane as smoking the same brand of cigarettes, good taste in memes, or the fact their house is always parent-free. In 2007, my first year of college, I brought in the New Year at a friend’s house. The number of revellers was over 20, because nothing gains you social currency in FYJC like throwing a bitching party for people you barely know. The apartment was overflowing with teenagers using alcohol as social lubricant and toilets as spare bedrooms.
As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading.
Fast forward a decade on to December 2017. I was bringing in the New Year at the same house. The only difference this time was the gathering was a close-knit group of eight old friends, and everybody went home by 4 am instead of passing out in the loo. It’s as if the intervening decade had been spent watching frivolous friendships wither away with nothing being done to arrest their decline. It might start with one or two people missing a big get-together, then one-on-one plans are dropped in favour of more pressing engagements like a date or a meeting, and finally, you realise that for some people, there just isn’t any room in your life anymore.
Science backs these claims up, proving that we make our longest-lasting friendships in our adolescent years. CNN published findings of a joint study by England’s University of Oxford and Finland’s Aalto University that pegged 25 as the age when both men and women stop being “socially promiscuous”. A New York Times essay “Why It is Hard to Make Friends Over 30?” corroborated this: “As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends.”
As maturity sets in and the phase of youthful experimentation finally comes to an end, you start focusing on what you like rather than trying to further broaden your horizons by trying new activities. It becomes this way with restaurants, it becomes this way with work, and it certainly becomes this way with friendships.
People also become closer to the friends they already have, Laura L Carstensen, a psychology professor, points out in the NYT piece. “This is because people have an internal alarm clock that goes off at big life events… It reminds them that time horizons are shrinking, so it is a point to pull back on exploration and concentrate on the here and now.”
This is where #NoNewFriends comes in. I’m at a point where I have mentally and socially gotten past the need to grow my circle of friends. Sadly, not everyone is at that point yet. Like my ride-hitching neighbour, or that work colleague who thinks sharing a desk has made you BFFs, some people are still trying to ingratiate themselves with virtual strangers. These are likely the folks for whom self-help articles like “How to Make Friends as an Adult” are published.
To them, I often say in my head, “Thanks for applying, but we’re just not hiring.” I know I sound like a total douche, but I can say it with all the youthful confidence, comfort, and cheek of someone who lucked out in the friendship department – and who has not yet experienced the pain and hollowness of watching close friendships dissolve with age.
Right about now, it’s perfect.
But it’s got me wondering what drives people to try and befriend people long after their “best before” date. Did they not talk to enough people growing up? Have all their old friends moved away? Do they not have the internet to stay in touch? Clearly, the topic drives me into an unproductive loop from which the only rescue is a stiff drink.
Of course, I’ll only be sharing it with my college buddies. #NoNewFriends for lyf.